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When you think of farmhouse style, you might think of Joanna Gaines and grand whitewashed dwellings in the countryside. But what exactly is whitewash, how is it used, and what does it have to do with farmhouses? 

In this blog, we’ll answer all of those questions and explain why Urban Legacy uses whitewash for our reclaimed wood shelves.

What Is Whitewash?

White wash is a paint-like material made from a few simple ingredients. Historically, the main two ingredients in whitewash are slaked lime (or “builders’ lime”) and chalk; however, other additives, from egg whites to flour, have been used. 

Whitewashing predates modern painting, and still remains a popular alternative to traditional paints.

The History of Whitewashed Wood

Traditional wood whitewashing dates back several centuries in places like England and Greece, when it was applied to houses for its fire retardant capabilities. It didn’t fully take off, however, until Colonial times in America, when people discovered many additional uses for it.

Typically made from water and chalked lime, whitewash was inexpensive and accessible to early settlers. It was also so easy to apply, that children were often trusted with the task. People began applying it to the trunks of trees to prevent sunscald and to fences that needed a fresh look.

Churches thought the white hue represented cleanliness and purity, so they hired children to whitewash their exteriors. The trend was so popular that when lime was in short supply, folks would use other ingredients like milk, flour, or even eggs to replicate the desirable whitewashed look.

Why Farmhouses Were Whitewashed 

Chalked lime was a staple on farmsteads at the time because of its mild anti-microbial properties and abilities to cover up odors and repel insects. Logic followed that using whitewash made from lime would have the same capabilities. This is when whitewash started making its way through the farming community

In addition to painting their iconic farmhouses, farmers used whitewash to brighten dark interior barn spaces. They found it was safe to use around their animals and many argued its usage could improve the animals’ health, as the alkalinity of the lime reduced mildew buildup and kept microbes at bay. With all these great benefits, whitewash quickly took over the farming scene and settled neatly into the rustic design portfolio.

Preserving Whitewash’s Legacy at Urban Legacy

To honor this timeless agricultural tradition and match the historical roots of our reclaimed barn wood, we have proudly selected White Washed as a color option for many of our shelves.

Whitewash is different from paint in that it does not produce a completely solid coat and allows glimpses of the natural wood to show through in places. Our modern-day version covers products in a way that mimics the appearance of buildings whitewashed long ago, but without any flaking or the hassle of re-application.

While we could have used a regular white paint, we have instead chosen a formula that authentically recreates the visual aspects of traditional whitewash, and stays true to the distinction of this finish. If you would like to continue the story of whitewashed décor in your home or office, check out our Reclaimed Barn Wood Floating Accent Shelves.